With investigators of the mysterious Malaysian jetliner disappearance increasingly focusing in on one of the pilots – who, as London’s Daily Mail reports, is being described as “fanatical” and “obsessive” – and worse, who became “profoundly upset” on the day of the Flight MH370’s fateful disappearance” – it is worth noting there is precedent for a commercial airline pilot “going haywire” and purposely taking a jetliner full of passengers to their deaths.
Less than 15 years ago, in October 1999, one of the worst air disasters in modern history occurred when Egypt Air Flight 990 crashed into the Atlantic shortly after takeoff from New York.
It wasn’t until two-and-a-half years later that the National Transportation Safety Board finally reached the conclusion many observers and analysts had claimed immediately after the crash – that the plane’s Egyptian copilot, Gameel El-Batouty, had cut power to the engines and intentionally sent the plane plummeting into the ocean, killing all 217 people aboard.
The U.S. government panel declined to suggest a motive, except to speculate that El-Batouty might have “committed suicide.” And the Los Angeles Times suggested El-Batouty might have been taking revenge against an Egypt Air executive who was aboard the flight.
However, to most people, “mass murder” or “terrorism” constituted a more apt description than “suicide” regarding the wanton annihilation of hundreds of passengers. Despite the fact that the copilot, El-Batouty, had calmly repeated over and over the Arabic phrase “Tawakkalt ala Allah” – meaning “I rely on Allah” – for almost a minute and a half during his deed – and that such behavior, according to the NTSB report, “is not consistent with the reaction that would be expected from a pilot who is encountering an unexpected or uncommanded flight condition” – the federal report steered clear of suggesting jihad as a motive.
Based on flight-data recorder and other evidence, the Atlantic Monthly in 2001 published “The Crash of EgyptAir 990,” a chilling, moment-by-moment reconstruction of how “El-Batouty had gone haywire” after the main pilot took a bathroom break, leaving him free to purposely crash the plane.
Egyptian reaction to the NTSB report was adamant: The plane’s failure was mechanical, Egyptian officials said, and the American report was a craven attempt to protect Boeing, the aircraft’s manufacturer.
“Committing suicide is not a trait that Egyptians and Muslims are known for,” commented the head of the Egyptian pilots association.